The church bake sale was two days away and Mimi still needed to make twenty cakes, five yellow, five chocolate, five strawberry, and five white. After school I ran to her house, threw my backpack on the floor in the entryway, washed my hands, put on my apron, and climbed up on the stool I always sat on when I helped her cook. She had already gathered the ingredients, lined them up on the counter, dry items stored in mason jars. butter, eggs, and milk kept cool in the door of the refrigerator. Mimi had a cook’s kitchen, plenty of shelves, counter space, a double oven she used to make a big Sunday dinner every week.
All her friends, seniors from church and her volunteer group, joined her, relaxing around the long, mahogany table while they ate Louisiana favorites they either remembered from childhood or were trying for the first time. If I was quiet, I could make a plate and eat with them, never letting on that I heard conversations centered on disease and dying, bucket lists and once in a lifetime feats. They ate, laughed, and lived, finding happiness in memory, joy in seeing their children and grandchildren become people they were proud of, contentment they found in friendships, people they’d know until the end.
And now, one by one, they trickled into the kitchen, rolling up their sleeves, ready to measure and mix, scraping batter from bowls into cake pans, washing dishes so they could be used again and again. They moved through the process like they were on an assembly line, their banter light, their pace productive. Once the cakes had cooled I helped frost them, decorate them with flowers, sprinkles.
We were halfway done, when Mimi noticed that both ovens had stopped working, the temperature steadily falling as she played with the buttons. She looked across the table at the bowls of batter, at Gloria who was adding butter and eggs to a bowl, Yolanda who was pouring batter into a cake pan.
“I can make a couple cakes at my house,” Joyce said.
“Me too,” Jeannette offered.
“If we each take two, we can get it done,” Yolanda comforted. “We’ll get these cakes made,” she sassed.
“You don’t have to,” Mimi said as she fiddled with the ovens.
“Don’t worry about that now,” her friend Carmela walked over and guided her to the table. “What we’ll do is finish making the batter here and we can put it in…” she looked around the kitchen.
“This,” Gloria pulled out gallon-sized storage bags. “This will work.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” Yolanda agreed.
They all went back to work, except for Mimi. Cake batter was poured into storage bags and then put inside old grocery bags, the ends knotted in case there was spillage. I watched her sit at the table, wrestling with kindness. She only knew how to give it, not how to receive it. She didn’t know that she was as sweet as the batter we scooped from bowls and baked for people who’d enjoy the treat but never return to say so.